A Murder of Crows

In the American South, sometimes it is hard to discern the seasons. The calendar can be a loose guide, but it is seldom ever right on time with the weather. There is a meteorological way of naming the seasons but even that has proved unreliable this year.

September is supposed to be a month of low-pressure cells, cool fronts, sporadic rain and yellow leaves. It is the meteorological beginning of autumn.

This year, however, has been the year of exception in Texas. July and August are typically dry but it rained all summer. Hurricane Harvey flooded half the state. September has been completely dry and exceptionally hot. I’m confused.

I don’t know if I still need to buy BT dunks for the pond and bird bath to kill mosquito larvae. I’m not sure if the hummingbirds need nectar. It’s almost October but I’m still carrying a summer purse.

The first day of autumn has come and gone but I keep looking for clues. Wal-Mart has Halloween costumes but they put those out on Labor Day. The morning glories have started blooming again but the roses still look dormant. The neighbor’s cottonwood is losing leaves but our cypress is not. The state fair starts this week and our lawn needs water. The Japanese maple is not even tinged with red.

When I know that it is fall, I will want to work in the flower beds, clean my oven and buy canned pumpkin. Until I’m sure, I’m not putting my swimsuit away or trading out sleeveless shirts for sweaters in the closet. I’m keeping my flip-flops handy. The gold and orange door wreath remains in the attic.

I had a significant clue this week. When I stuck my nose out the door one morning to test the humidity, I heard a newly formed murder of crows talking about winter accommodations. Crows are to autumn what the robin is to spring.

A Murder of Crows

Like a noisy crowd gathered for a spectacle

Texas Crows don’t move south for the winter but they do change their roosting habits. After a summer of pairing up and fighting for territory, a large group will get together in one area that provides food, water and shelter. They share during hard times.

They can be seen in large congregations in trees barren of leaves. They sound like a noisy crowd gathered for a spectacle. When I see crows gathering and hear them talking, I know that autumn has arrived, even if it is close to 100 degrees F. today.

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Smelling Time

I conjured up an unusual smell this morning, cleaning the coffee maker, dumping the grounds and throwing something in the trash while the garbage disposal was running.

I think it was cherry tobacco! Most specifically, it was Mr. Ellis’ cherry cigars, circa 1963. His domain was the corner grocery of my childhood. Old wood, various chocolates and garlic bologna permeated the air but Mr. Ellis’ cigars surmounted them all.


A smell from my childhood

With the phantom or artificial recreation of this odor from my past came a flood of memories—walking to the store on a summer morning, carrying in glass Pepsi bottles to redeem for a huge 16 ounce soda Mom and I would divide for a special summer lunch.

It was a rare thing, but I remember being sent to procure a pack of Chesterfield non-filters on behalf of my dad and Mr. Ellis giving me a gruff, “Do your folks know you’re buying cigarettes?”

I was fond of the old man and sad when he didn’t open the store for a few days. Desperate for something, Mom told me to knock on the door of the little house in back because he lived there. It was a strange man who opened. I never knew Mr. Ellis had fuzzy white hair or whiskers or that he wore undershirts just like my dad’s. He was grumpy but he opened the shop and sold me what I needed.

The closed days became more and more frequent and then one day the store was shuttered for good. Mom told me he was not coming back. I wondered how she knew. We all hoped someone else would buy the shop and open it.

Ellis’ Grocery was our convenience, the place for bananas or bread, candy and frosty soda from a chiller box with ice in it. It was our nostalgia made from screen doors with Rainbo bread handles and Prince Albert in a can and cardboard cigar boxes he would save for you if you asked nicely.

What is it (I wonder) about smells that are so inexplicably linked to memory? Cherry tobacco takes me back to childhood. How can a lemon dish soap used during pregnancy more than forty years ago still trigger a picture of me passing out in the bathroom from morning sickness? Wood smoke every fall triggers memories of our cabin in the Ouachita National Forest. Diesel fuel sparks the summer Mom and I awaited my sister in a bus station on our journey to St. Louis when I was eleven.

A pleasant memory trigger

Orange triggers some pleasant memory for most people

Doctors have experimented with certain smells to trigger memory in elderly people. I think they used things like cinnamon and orange, maybe rosemary—all pleasant smells. I wonder what would happen if they tried cigar smoke and diesel fuel?

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Can I Be You?

“Can I be you when I grow up?” the lady at the gas station asked because she drooled over my little foreign sports car. She made me laugh. It feels good to be envied.

But if she only knew! I have been at the extreme opposite end of the feeling. I remember driving my teenage son’s old station wagon while the family car was having engine repairs. His sister would scrunch down in the passenger seat when the big old hunk of junk would backfire, puff smoke and die at inopportune moments. One day a frustrated motorist shouted, “Fix it or park it, lady!”

Station Wagon

Driving a Big White House Shoe

We both felt near tears but we laughed instead and said we were driving a big, white house shoe.

Pride and humiliation—I wonder if they are innate in us or if they’re learned.

Our parents teach us to take pride in our accomplishments and feel disappointment and embarrassment when we fail. Or perhaps they merely encourage what is already there.

School teachers use pride and shame to encourage good behavior and study. The very system of grading supports comparison of ourselves to other students. Maybe even class “show and tell” gets us started on that path.

Advertisers encourage this thinking, of course, in order to sell goods and services. They know everyone wants to throw the ball like a sports hero, cook like a professional chef, look like a model, and charm like a movie star. Owning what our heroes own or recommend is surely the way to be enviable.

Some of the newest advertising uses shame as well, portraying young people whispering behind someone’s back. Human imagination convinces us we could be the subject of secret derision if we don’t use that product, drive that vehicle or wear that brand.

We are not allowed to see the heartache involved, the plastic surgery, clothes altering, photo airbrushing, contract negotiations or legal wrangling that goes on behind product promotions. We only see what they want us to see.

The same is true of my beautiful car. Success is the finished product you see. You are not allowed to see my fourteen-hour days behind the counter at Quik Trip, hauling rocks up the side of a mountain, living in the back of an office or driving the big, white house shoe.

If that young lady who was jealous of my car could have known the path I’ve walked, would she have been willing to trade places with me? Or would she have said, “No, thank you! I’ll keep the life I’m comfortable with”?

Audi TT

Audi TT looks like success

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Growly Bushes

Dense woods

Dense woods get a little scary…when they growl

A low, threatening growl emanated from the underbrush, halting my trek through the woods. Not sure if the sound was real or imagined, I drew my pistol from the holster and moved one foot through the dry, crunchy leaves.

Grrrrrr. Definitely real; most definitely close enough to make me break out in a sweat. Now I stood motionless in a shooter’s crouch, my feet too far apart to feel comfortable on the rocky forest floor, my gun pointed at a clump of greenery. Each time I tried to move my feet, I was threatened by another deep growl from the bush.

Shooter's Stance

Right or not, when I need to shoot suddenly, my knees bend

Though I stared long and hard, I could discern no movement and no variance in color to give me a clue as to what was hiding less than three feet away.

My body was frozen in place; my mind was going ninety miles an hour. I thought about just firing into the bushes but then I thought if it was a bear this would only provoke it. I imagined being mauled by an angry bear with a .38 slug in its foot.

The growl sounded like a dog to me, so maybe it was a coyote. Only bigger. Maybe it was a wolf. Were there wolves around here?

Why would a wolf hide in the bush? Maybe it was injured. Perhaps it had just given birth. I didn’t want to kill a mother!

What if it was the neighbor’s dog, a huge half-Saint Bernard mongrel who ran loose and enjoyed being a territorial bully. What if he was rabid?

What if it was my husband, pulling a prank? I didn’t want to shoot my husband!

I decided to warn the growler. “I have a gun and I will shoot you!” That didn’t send anyone scrambling from the undergrowth. It didn’t even elicit a growl. I decided to talk some more.

“What’s wrong? Why are you hiding? Are you hurt? I won’t hurt you. I just want to go on my way…” I don’t remember all the nonsense out of my adrenaline-crazed brain but I think my tone got softer.

I survived. But to this day I remain a little surprised at my reluctance to pull the trigger on the unknown menace in the bush.

Our reactions to new, foreign, scary and unfamiliar things can vary widely. Some of us react without thinking things through. Some of us (like me) think so long the opportunity to react (good or bad) passes us by. Some people run; some pull the trigger and run; some talk sweet through their sweat and fear.

Usually the thing we fear is just as afraid of us as we are of it. The people who intimidate are terrified and their false front is to make sure we stay three feet away.

My walk in the woods turned out okay except I’ll never know what growled at me. I will probably continue to talk sweet to growly bushes. Hey, it works!

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Two-Dollar Plant

In January, I bought an English Primrose at the grocery store. They were only two dollars, and so pretty, blooming in a variety of colors and in cheap plastic pots to match the blooms. I picked yellow because it made me feel cheery in the middle of winter’s gloom.

Two dollar plant

For two dollars, I’ll enjoy it while it lasts

When I bought this, I said, “I’ll probably kill it but for two dollars, I will enjoy it while it lasts.” I also put it in the category of cut flowers for a vase–beauty for a moment.

Now it is May and my little two-dollar plant lives on. As a matter of fact, the last blossom is starting to fade after four months of flowers. What a bargain!

Now I have to decide if my investment should be thrown away (Who wants a pot of leaves?) or invested in further by picking a spot and planting it outdoors, watering it all summer, protecting it all winter and generally fertilizing and fretting over it for all of its natural life.

I am of the old-school when it comes to throwing things away. I still have my first potato masher, given to me in 1972. It’s American-made stainless steel and will surely outlast me.

The new school of thought is that things should be made as cheaply as possible, look good but be replaced every few months. That way, one always has a shiny new thing.

I would rather have quality stuff that is made to last. I am distressed whenever a relatively new thing breaks or is lost. I expected to have it in service for thirty years or more!

I feel almost the same way about relationships. When misunderstandings occur and feelings get hurt, I do my best to mend things, patch them up and make things last forever. Unlike a broken kitchen utensil or a spent flower, the other people have something to say about it. If they’d rather throw the relationship away than to invest time and emotion into making it last, there’s little I can do to save it.

I see my grandkids dismissing people from their lives, left and right. “Who needs toxic relationships?” they say. Or, “Accept me the way I am or disappear.” It seems they are always naming a new BFF or a new lover/boyfriend/fiancé.

I wonder what they’d do with a two-dollar primrose. I think I’ll plant mine and see how it goes. Maybe it will bloom again next spring.

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I heard the weatherman say March first begins “meteorological spring” here in Texas. I wasn’t sure all that implied but, after living here seven years, I am inclined to agree: the last of February always greens up like early spring.

When it rains (which is a big deal) the earth turns loose of its pungent mold waiting to escape and scent the air with nature’s patchouli. Green is just a few hours away!

Alfalfa in mountains

Alfalfa fields speak life to me

In late February this year we drove south to Austin and the alfalfa fields were gloriously green. The hedges were blooming, even roses. I’ve been to Galveston in mid-winter, so I am confident they have green palm trees and their oleanders are blooming all winter.

I love flowers, even the tiny little things that bloom in the grass: dandelions, Venus’ looking glass, grape hyacinths, violets, dianthus, sedum, gill-over-the-ground, blue-eyed grass and chickweed. They all signal spring is near.

In winter, when the world is mostly gray and white and brown, even olive looks cheery. But the pines and cedars and cypress put on new, bright shades when warm spring rains invigorate them.

The thing that lightens my heart the most is green grass. There is something revitalizing about the color green. Nothing looks lusher than bright emerald fields. Even the wild buffalo grass brightens my mood when its color perks up from winter’s yellowing.

I wonder if children and animals feel livelier when they see green or if it is a psychological effect that is learned?

To me, green sends a message of new life, energy, fertility and at the same time, soothing calmness, relief and success.

God named the first month of the year Abib, which is Hebrew for “green shoot” or “green ears of grain.” That’s a little like the English word “spring” as in “spring forth.” If I had been consulted, I think I would have called it “Green”!


Read more on the psychology of green (and other colors) here: https://www.verywell.com/color-psychology-green-2795817

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Persuasive Words

Have you ever shared information and had the intended recipient turn on you with a defensive tone? And then days later (or weeks or months) heard or seen that person sharing that very information with someone else or putting it into practice? I have.

It is quite gratifying to realize the power of your persuasive words. And when it happens to me, it is almost always a surprise.

Depending on the initial response, I typically think I’m not very good at communicating. Misunderstandings happen all too often. Sometimes, even though I’m a better-than-average writer, I think there is no power in my pen at all.

When those gratifying moments come, when I realize I did get my point across–that person did hear me and receive my helpful words–I tend to make light of it because of the delayed response.

That’s human nature: we focus on the negative and shrug off the positive. So I’m writing down positive words today.

A certain person did not like my suggestion about how to put the liner in the trash can. That person defensively told me he had his own way of doing it. This week that adorable person put the liner in correctly (i.e. the way I suggested) and my faith in the mighty power of persuasive words has been restored.

That said, and believed, and recorded, (and laughed about) we ought to be careful with words, both those we speak and those we hear. Words have brought down nations, started wars, ended wars and dissolved marriage vows. The words we allow in our heads can build us up or tear us down. They’ve even been known to drive a person to take his own life.

Sometimes when we feel torn down at the end of a long day, we simply need to hear some positive, build-up words and remember our successes.

A couple of people lately have told me I’m “bubbly,” “always upbeat regardless of circumstances,” and “caring.” I’ve also heard I’m a “good hostess.” I’m writing those down! The Good Lord knows about all the negative ones that will pop in my head from time to time.

Bulwer-lytton quote

Indeed, ’tis true!

Readers might also want to read some words about the power of the public press. I think it’s a good reminder. Blog: Who Is Everybody?/2013/10/15/289/

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